May 23rd, 2004
Ah now, the good stuff. You know inviting me to ramble about cookbooks can be dangerous, but I'll attempt to restrain myself.
1. My number one recommendation for a good all around cookbook is How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman. He writes The Minimalist column in the NY Times and is a self-taught home cook, not a professional chef. His mission is to provide recipes that provide sophisticated flavor, without a hundred and one steps or super-expensive ingredients - hence, The Minimalist. Don't be fooled into thinking that this is just for super beginners though, I use it all the time.
2. For a good all around vegetarian cookbook you just can't get any better than Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. She positions this cookbook as a book not just for vegetarians but for anyone who likes good food and wants to cook great vegetables, beans, grains, breads, eggs, etc. It's a huge book like How to Cook Everything - between the two of them you will probably have enough recipes for years and years! Some of her recipes can be time consuming, but some are super simple. Everything I've made out of this cookbook has been really good, and it's especially good for the summer when you can go to the farmer's market and get yummy stuff and then open her book to figure out what to do with it all.
3. Since you said you were interested in learning different sauces, I would also recommend Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making by James Peterson. This book starts with the classic French sauces and moves through to more contemporary Italian and Asian style sauces. But the essence of the book is really rooted in the classic French techniques. The target audience is a bit more experienced than for the previous recommendations, but I didn't find it intimidating. I'll have to admit I haven't used it much though, as the classic French sauces don't really fit into your diet when you're trying to lose weight or limit saturated fat in your diet. But I really enjoyed reading it all the way through (it's something like 600 pages) and learned a lot about sauce technique. I think I've integrated some of what I learned into my cooking without actually following specific recipes.
I would recommend checking these out of the library first to see if you like them. I check cookbooks out of the library all of the time. Most of them I just end up copying a recipe or two and then returning them. The ones I love I end up buying. Then half.com is a good place to get books cheap, and jessicasbuiscut.com is a good cookbook specific retailer.
I could keep going, but that's probably a good start. If you want a recommendation for a specific type of cookbook let me know.